WASHINGTON -- Some of the nation's most conservative states are propelling the same-sex marriage juggernaut back toward the Supreme Court.
Judges in Texas and Kentucky this week added their endorsements to those voiced in the last three months by colleagues in New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma, Ohio and Virginia.
No state or federal judge has opposed gay marriage since the Supreme Court in June allowed gay men and lesbians to marry in California and struck down the Defense of Marriage Act's ban on federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
In addition, attorneys general in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Nevada and Oregon have quit defending their states' bans — a stance that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder took last year and this week endorsed for his state colleagues.
And the trend shows no signs of abating. State and federal district court cases could be decided soon in Arkansas, Idaho, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia. Appeals are pending in Virginia, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah. In all, nearly 50 cases are pending in 26 states.
"It changes by the minute," said Gary Buseck, legal director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. "The bottom line is, these are easy cases."
When the high court ruled in June, 12 states and the District of Columbia allowed gay marriage. By its action, California became the 13th.
Since then, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and New Mexico have been added by state legislatures and courts, bringing the total to 17 states. If recent lower court rulings are upheld, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia could be added to the list.
Before that happens one by one, the Supreme Court almost certainly will have to weigh in again. The court traditionally is loath to set a national standard until there is more of a consensus among the states, but the justices may not have that choice.
The lower court judges have used decades of Supreme Court opinions to back up their findings that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same marriage rights as heterosexuals.
In particular, they have cited last June's 5-4 ruling in United States v. Edith Windsorstriking down the federal ban on marriage benefits — just as dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia predicted at the time.
"In one sense, the dramatic change that we have seen with respect to civil rights for gay people is extraordinary," said Windsor's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan. "On the other hand, the perfect string of decisions that we have seen in the wake of Windsor is really not that surprising."
Opponents of same-sex marriage aren't giving up, of course. At every losing turn, groups such as the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council have condemned judicial rulings and attorneys general's about-faces.
"The lawlessness of this administration has reached epic proportions with seemingly every facet of the federal government attempting to force same-sex marriage on the country, despite federal law and the Supreme Court ruling that marriage is the purview of the states," NOM President Brian Brown said.